“The village slowly began to shake off its slumber and come to life.”

Fog is one of the strangest weather formations the planet throws up. Sure, when you get down to basics, it’s pretty much just a low-lying cloud. Nonetheless, fog stirs up the primal fear – that of the unknown. Fog shrouds our view of the world and has led to numerous disasters throughout history, from ships running aground on rocks, to lives being lost in wars when views are suddenly obscured. It’s not alone, as there are also its sisters smog (smoke and fog, creating the infamous peasoupers of London) and vog (volcanic ash and fog). But it’s that primal fear I mentioned that we can’t get away from. Nothing is always scarier than something, and who knows what might be lurking in that dense mist, so close but invisible.

In The Fog, it’s not quite clear what the titular mist is. When a large crack in the ground opens up in a village in Wiltshire, a yellowish vapour rises from the fissure and sets off across the countryside. At first people think nothing much of it, just noting its strange colour, but it soon turns out that anyone who gets caught in the fog … changes. At a school, pupils mutilate one of their teachers. In a church, a priest exposes himself to his parishioners. On a farm, a herd of cows trample their owner. When the fog reaches Bournemouth and manages to convince the entire town to walk down to the sea and drown itself, the police and the government know that whatever they are dealing with is unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

The only hope now, it seems, is John Holman, the only person in the country who has been exposed to the fog and cured of its insanity-inducing properties. Given the unenviable task of getting close enough to the fog to get a sample so that a cure can be manufactured to save everyone else before they kill themselves or one another, Holman sets about doing so with guidance from scientists and politicians. However, he’s also got to deal with his beloved Casey, who has also been infected by the fog, and time may be running out, as the fog now seems to be on its way to London…

The scenario Herbert dreams up here isn’t actually scary in itself, as the chance of a malicious, mind-altering fog coming into existence seems slim. However, what the fog actually is never gets adequately explained, so the sense of unease does hang around. It’s very possible it’s an example of biological warfare that has been accidentally released during a bomb test, but it could so easily be something much more otherworldly and sinister. The true horror here lies in how those who have been affected react. It brings out base animalistic tendencies, some people changing immediately and others taking hours to succumb, and most people immediately want to kill and torture. Many kill themselves, either jumping from windows or throwing themselves into water, but many more set about killing their loved ones and strangers in increasingly gory ways.

The novel frequently leaves Holman and his associates to show us how “normal” people are being affected, and Herbert does this well by fully fleshing out each character with a few pages of backstory before the fog interrupts their lives. This is never invasive, and makes us care about the characters we’re seeing die, even if they’re not all pleasant. One man, for example, is shown as being a drunk and a terrible husband but it’s still a shock when his racing pigeons, returning home through the fog, gang up and kill him. Another man, in one of the book’s lighter moments, feels no compulsion stronger in his insanity than a desire to kick everyone’s backsides.

A chilling and very dark novel that explores how quickly society can fall, what measure any of us are sane, and how we must deal with death.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!